aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Present at the Creation (or close enough)

Memories of Launching Nischa Chuppecat Lodge

Submitted by Art Collins (Geschitehen)
Upon the 100th Anniversary of the Order of the Arrow

On an evening in early January, 1973, I got a phone call from Bill Bogner, our newly-installed So Aka Gha Gwa Lodge Chief. He was highly excited. “Where were you?” he demanded. “You weren’t at the Lodge Executive Committee meeting!”

I replied that I was no longer on the Lodge Executive Committee. I had served the last two years as a Chapter Chief, first of Miami District, then, after graduating high school and moving from Spencer to Linton, as Chief of Lincoln Trail District. But my term was done, my successor elected. I had no office. Bill was not to be deterred. “I need you!” he shouted into the phone. “You’re my Henry Kissinger!” And he insisted that I show up at the February meeting. In what capacity? I asked. He named me Lincoln Trail Chapter Advisor on the spot (it was vacant), and as a youth member, I was to be allowed to vote. It was all probably ultra vires.

But nobody questioned it at the next meeting. We had just merged Councils the first of the year, which meant that we had just merged Lodges. It had been decided at that first, joint, Executive Committee meeting that Bill Bogner and Jeff Garrett (chief of Wazi Yata Lodge) would remain as Section Chiefs, and the Executive Committee would co-opt a new Lodge Chief to preside over the Executive Committee. That was a major topic at that February meeting. As I recall, the person the Advisors recommended was not present that day, but I remember the Executive Committee electing him, and he was certainly in the chair by the next meeting.

Also a hot topic was what to name the new Lodge. I have been recently told that that was certainly decided before the first (spring) newsletter went out, so it must have been decided upon at the February or March meeting. I think it was the latter. There was a great sense of urgency given to naming the Lodge by some Advisors, but others wanted to wait and do the job right (as they saw it); they wanted to research the languages spoken by the Indians of the area and come up with a unique name fitted to the history of our Council. Urged on by the more impatient folks, the youth looked up names in the Lenni Lenape word list in the OA Handbook and settled quickly on Nischa Chuppecat, which meant “Two Rivers.” Dr. Bob Finehout (who was not present at that meeting) was disgusted upon hearing of the decision. He said, “they just looked in the back of the book” for a name and wouldn’t wait for research into something more authentic. The totem was to be the confluence of two rivers – a hard thing to picture on a lodge flap, but a sketch was soon produced, and we were off and running.

I was on the Rules Committee, chaired by Dave Schrodt. I recall typing up the draft of the first Lodge Constitution from the decisions of that committee and the boilerplate in the OA Handbook. Years later, I served on camp staff with a younger man who had been Lodge Chief. He used to trump all conversations about lodge doings with the phrase, “Well, when I was Lodge Chief . . . “ After a while, whenever he would bring out that phrase, I started responding to him with, “Well, when I wrote the Lodge Constitution . . .” I didn’t really, of course, but it’s important to remember that there are always people around who know more than you do or who have more honors than the ones you’re so proud of.

The most fraught decision we made that spring had to do with procedures for our first Ordeal. Back then, preserving silence throughout the day was a high priority, and members were probably a bit too zealous to correct those who broke it. Wazi Yata also had a tradition of having Ordeal candidates wear a little, three-section block of wood around their necks. When someone spoke out, it was allowed that they could have a section of wood broken off for talking. And they were warned that if they broke silence three times, they would be sent home and not be allowed to complete the Ordeal. I don’t know if anyone had been sent home for talking any time in recent memory, but I remember that So Aka Gha Gwa had not used such a device; those of us from that section thought the whole think smacked of hazing. We took a vote, and the little wooden blocks were disallowed by a single vote. Our Lodge Advisor, Dick Martin, then called our attention to the fact that we had just had our first-ever party-line vote. All of us were surprised by that and unhappy that we had split on former-lodge lines. A member of the majority must have moved to reconsider, for we eventually decided that the wooden pendants would be worn at that first Ordeal (satisfying Wazi Yata tradition), but that nobody was authorized to break off any sections (satisfying So Aka Gha Gwa sensibilities). Hurt feelings were avoided and everybody felt a good decision had been made. I don’t think the wooden pendants were ever used again. It rapidly became a non-issue among so many new things to be worked out.

Also taking up a fair amount of discussion in those first months was how to be represented at the upcoming NOAC at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Carl Stewig, our professional Advisor, insisted that we were one lodge and should go as a single delegation. The cost was so prohibitive, however, so only one person, Bill Finke, signed up to go from the Wazi Yata section; Bill Bogner, from the So Aka Gha Gwa section, was the only other member who went other than our dance team, the Heyoka Indian Dancers. In the end, we had a very large delegation, but other than the two Bills, we were all dancers.

That NOAC was the first to be held on the West Coast, I think; certainly, it was a first for UC Santa Barbara. It was also, I think, one of the first National Conferences where registration and room assignments were done by computer, rather than shuffling paper. Now, it so happened that every door on the Santa Barbara campus had a number over it – part of UCSB’s system. These were used by whoever was doing the computer work, with the result that some training sessions were assigned to broom closets and at least one lodge was assigned a dorm lobby for their sleeping quarters. It was a mess, but we all laughed over it.

I remember one of the first vigils kept at Maumee. The Vigil Honor members who were present slept in the Admin building, which was the only building finished. Once you stepped outside, you were in raw nature: much of the underbrush hadn’t even been cleared away yet. The original trail to the OA circle (still in use in the ‘80s) started at the parking lot and went down behind what is now the shotgun range (probably why we don’t use that trail any more); the stone step at the head of the trail is still there.

I wrote up an account of NOAC for the Lodge newsletter at the end of the summer. By Fall Conclave and Fall Fellowship, things were running smoothly. We held our first Lodge elections and first Chapter elections. New boys rose to leadership, and old loyalties were being replaced with a feeling of unity. Youth are very adaptable, and the new officers and new camp staffs were rapidly building a culture that was unique to Nischa Chuppecat.

I got married on December 31, 1973, and for several years was more concerned with finishing my education and getting life started than with lodge doings. I became an ordained minister in The United Methodist Church, which also meant that I moved around southern Indiana and was active in other lodges before coming back to Hoosier Trails for a time in 1984. By that time, few traces remained of the two former lodges, other than a great desire on the part of older members to lay hold of the restricted lodge flaps of the former lodge that merged with their old lodge back in the day.

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